Difference Wiki

Genetic Variation vs. Environmental Variation: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 24, 2023
Genetic variation arises from differences in DNA among individuals, while environmental variation results from diverse environmental factors affecting those individuals.

Key Differences

Genetic variation refers to the diversity in gene sequences between individuals within a species. Environmental variation, conversely, involves changes in organism traits due to differences in their surroundings, like climate or habitat.
Genetic variation is inherited, originating from mutations, gene flow, or sexual reproduction. Environmental variation, on the other hand, is not inherited but results from an organism's interaction with its environment throughout its life.
Genetic variation is crucial for evolution, as it provides the raw material for natural selection. Environmental variation affects how these genetic traits are expressed and can influence an organism's ability to survive and reproduce in its habitat.
Genetic variation occurs at the level of DNA and is passed down through generations, while environmental variation can be unique to an individual's experience and change over time or with location.
Understanding both types of variation is key in fields like conservation biology, where genetic variation ensures species adaptability, and environmental variation informs habitat management and protection strategies.

Comparison Chart


Differences in DNA
Diverse environmental factors


Inherited from parents
Not inherited, occurs during a lifetime

Role in Evolution

Provides material for natural selection
Influences trait expression and adaptability


Relatively stable in an individual
Can change with environmental conditions

Relevance to Individual

Determines inherent traits
Affects how those traits are expressed

Genetic Variation and Environmental Variation Definitions

Genetic Variation

Diversity in the genetic makeup among individuals.
Genetic variation leads to different skin colors in humans.

Environmental Variation

Variation in organism characteristics caused by external factors.
Environmental variation in temperature affects the migration patterns of birds.

Genetic Variation

Differences in genes passed down through reproduction.
The genetic variation in the dog breeds is a result of selective breeding.

Environmental Variation

Differences in phenotype resulting from habitat conditions.
Fish sizes vary due to environmental variation in water nutrients.

Genetic Variation

Distinct genetic traits within a species.
Genetic variation is responsible for the vast array of flower colors in a species.

Environmental Variation

Influence of surroundings on organism traits.
Sunlight exposure, an environmental variation, affects the coloration of leaves.

Genetic Variation

Inherited variations in the genome.
Genetic variation can make some individuals more susceptible to certain diseases.

Environmental Variation

Changes in traits due to environmental influences.
Environmental variation can cause differences in plant growth due to soil quality.

Genetic Variation

Variation in DNA sequences.
Genetic variation in the population increases the species' adaptability.

Environmental Variation

Non-genetic factors causing trait differences.
Environmental variation like altitude affects human physical endurance.


What is genetic variation?

Genetic variation refers to the diversity in gene frequencies within a species.

Can genetic variation be seen physically?

Yes, it can be observed in physical traits like eye color, height, and other characteristics.

How is genetic variation caused?

It is caused by mutations, genetic recombination during sexual reproduction, and by lateral gene transfer.

Why is genetic variation important?

It's crucial for a population's adaptability and survival under changing environmental conditions.

How does genetic variation occur in asexual reproduction?

Through mutations, since asexual reproduction doesn't involve recombination of genes.

How does genetic variation affect a species' adaptability?

It allows species to adapt to changing environments, with more variation often leading to better adaptability.

Is environmental variation predictable?

It can be less predictable as it depends on numerous and often changing external factors.

What role do genes play in genetic variation?

Genes, which carry hereditary information, are the primary units responsible for genetic variation.

Is genetic variation hereditary?

Yes, variations are passed from parents to offspring.

Is genetic variation common?

Yes, it's a natural and common occurrence in all species.

How does environmental variation differ from genetic variation?

Genetic variation is coded in the genes, while environmental variation arises from the organism’s interaction with its environment.

Can the environment affect genetic traits?

Yes, environmental conditions can influence how certain genes are expressed.

Are all traits influenced by the environment?

Most traits are influenced by a combination of genetics and environment.

Does environmental variation play a role in evolution?

Yes, it can affect which individuals survive and reproduce, influencing evolutionary processes.

Can genetic variation lead to evolution?

Yes, it's the basis for evolutionary changes as certain traits become more prevalent over generations.

Can environmental changes lead to genetic changes?

Not directly, but they can influence which genetic traits are advantageous and therefore more likely to be passed on.

Can environmental variation be inherited?

Typically, no. These variations are not encoded in the DNA and so are not passed to offspring.

What is environmental variation?

Environmental variation refers to changes in an organism's traits due to differences in their surroundings or experiences.

How does environment affect traits?

Environmental factors like diet, climate, and experiences can influence the expression of traits.

How does environmental variation contribute to diversity in a species?

It leads to different expressions of traits among individuals in different environments.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons